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St David’s Day can feel like “Wales Day”, with children in Welsh Lady costumes and rugby shirts and woolen caps making daffodil crafts in school, shops trying to sell Welsh Cakes and Bara Brith, and plastic dragons made in China roaring all over the retail sector.  Yet the kitsch doesn’t feel sarcastic, or shallow, but rather an affectionate nod to the obvious signs of Welsh identity.  People dress their kids up as Welsh as they dressed up as Welsh and back and back, and in fact the early Welsh Ladies themselves were dressing up as Welsh Ladies as a way to go to market.   Much that is specific to Wales is invisible and elusive– a quality of heart and poetry and singing and performance and community. It’s hard to specify, this thing called “Welsh”– within it there’s the warm cuddliness of a cwtch combined with the hard-scrabble get-on-with-life of rugged hill people, and miners.  At least that’s how I see it after seven years here.  Any Welsh friends are welcome to correct me!

Just out of curiosity, yesterday I made a Leek Pasty following the very simple recipe in my treasured 1959 Wales Gas Board how-to-use-your-new-oven pamphlet. (This is the source of wonderful recipes for Plum Tart and Marrow Tart.)

Welsh food these days is often celebrated with sumptuous lamb and heritage beef and cheffy drizzles of laverbread emulsion across a plate– hey, what a good idea!.  But my nose has spent enough hours in books by S Minwel Tibbot (and kindred) that I understand that Welsh food is really a lot about spartan poverty and seasonality, and deep pleasure in taking simple breaks for a cup of tea and a slice of cake– and other times, it’ s about necessity and exhaustion, and getting the cooking done as quickly as possible.

This pasty I reckon speaks to the desire for something a little meaty, a little salty, something to quiet hunger and get on with the day.  It would want to be washed down with a cup of sweet tea.

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I used 3/4 white flour to 1/4 brown, because I wanted a wholemeal flavour to stand up to the rendered pig fat, leftover from a pork shoulder from an animal that had had a free-range life on an ethical smallholding. There was a lot of fat, that I congealed then strained then remelted then bottled.  Amazing (no– appalling!) that this resource would ever be thrown out, though it’s quite intense t0 keep using it– especially as since the time we bought the pork we’d committed ourselves t0 reducing our eating of animals.  But there it was in the freezer, and the fat too, and here was a historic recipe to try!

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The pastry behaved just as pastry with butter would, and I rolled it out and placed the chopped leeks (local! seasonal!) on top, and then strips of bacon on top of them.  I did add little bits of butter as another recipe I’d consulted suggested.  A pig might have lasted a large family a long year, and little bits 0f bacon meant a lot in rural Welsh households.  Using six strips would have been extremely luxurious.

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The quantities in the pamphlet made 2 pies– I enjoyed using my vintage (i.e. chipped) enamelled tin pie plate.  Baking pastry on tin makes a better cooked tart.  I won’t use my glass baking dishes anymore for pastry– too soggy a result.

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And it was good!  And humble, and salty, and oniony in a leeky way, and nothing fancy, and no drizzle of a restaurantish sauce or chopped fresh herbs or eggy whispers of Frenchified quiche.  Just plain, really plain, and the children and their friends ate it all up.

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